In-depth reviews

Toyota Prius (2016-2021) review

A mid-life facelift gave the fourth-generation Toyota Prius a revised look and added an all-wheel-drive variant to the line-up

Overall rating

4.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Cheap to run
  • Massively practical
  • Improved hybrid powertrain

Cons

  • Looks won’t appeal to everyone
  • CVT won't suit all drivers
  • Infotainment still lacking
Car typeFuel economyCO2 emissions0-62mph
Hybrid59-68mpg94-109g/km10.6-10.9s

The fourth-generation Prius was given a mid-life facelift in 2019, helping it stay ahead of its main rival, the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid. As of early 2022, however, the Prius has been discontinued in the UK. That’s unless you go for the Prius Plug-In, but as this represents a significant step up in price, the Toyota Corolla is probably a better alternative.

You can’t plug the Prius in, so battery recharging is dealt with by the car’s electronic 'brain'. When you lift off the accelerator or brush the brake pedal, the Prius’ electric motor works in reverse to top up the battery pack. This is known as regenerative braking. The Prius can also use its engine to feed power to the battery.

There are two levels of regenerative braking: D mode gives a normal amount of braking when you lift off the accelerator pedal, just like engine braking in a normal car. Selecting B mode increases the strength of the regenerative braking, so you slow down just a little bit faster and top up the battery more intensely.

Of course, you can use the brake pedal to slow down as well – the first stage of the pedal’s travel uses the motor in reverse to slow the car; if you need to brake harder it uses the discs and calipers to slow you safely, just like any other car. This transition between regenerative and mechanical braking isn’t the smoothest, but it’s better than in almost all of its rivals.

The Prius uses a Continuously Variable Transmission, otherwise known as a CVT. It’s basically an automatic gearbox with a belt instead of gears, which keeps the engine’s revs at the optimum point for the level of performance you’re asking for with the accelerator pedal.

This means that at full throttle the engine revs soar quite high, which can impact refinement, but in all other conditions the programming of this latest CVT is much better than before, giving you a better connection to the car and lessening the ‘rubber band’ surge feeling you get when you put your foot down.

It’s helped by the boost from the electric motor. There’s not much electric-only driving range – instead, think of the electric motor as an assistant to the petrol engine so it doesn’t have to work as hard, making the Prius quieter on the move. It gives you a good level of power low down, so performance around town is strong.

Meanwhile, the ride is comfortable – especially on smaller wheels. The Prius is based on the latest Toyota New Global Architecture platform, which is relatively light, even with the battery pack. As a result, the car can get away with a relatively soft suspension, so it takes nasty bumps in its stride with deft control at lower speed. At higher speeds bumps do upset the car a little more, but this is still the most engaging Prius yet.

The Toyota is surprisingly good to drive for a car focused almost entirely on fuel economy. The steering is light and precise, while lean in corners is well controlled. The 121bhp, 1.8-litre petrol-electric set-up delivers decent acceleration, especially at lower speeds.

It’s also massively practical, thanks to its 457-litre boot – this more than you'll find in many family hatchbacks, which is good when you consider the Prius also has to accommodate a small battery pack within its chassis. This is located partly under the rear seat, but there’s lots of room in the back (it’s no surprise you see many used as taxis in big cities), while the lack of a transmission tunnel means it’s spacious in the front.

There are plenty of trim levels to choose from. The range starts with the Active, which gets a respectable amount of kit, including a seven-inch touchscreen, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, automatic LED headlights and a reversing camera. It runs right up to the top-spec Excel, which comes loaded with kit.

The newest addition to the line-up before the car left showrooms was the Toyota Prius AWD: it was also the most expensive Prius on sale, adding another electric motor for four-wheel drive. In theory, this improves traction, but it comes at the cost of slower acceleration, less boot space and poorer fuel economy.

The price span between the entry-level car and the priciest Business Edition+ with AWD was getting on for £5,000, and the Business Edition+ without AWD was the pick of the range, as this gets sat nav as standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available (one of the infotainment system’s failings), so the built-in nav is worthwhile.

If it’s a non-plug-in hybrid car you’re after and practicality and efficiency are key, then we’d recommend a Prius ahead of all its rivals. For a more detailed look at the car, read on for the rest of our in-depth review...

Most Popular

Top 10 best seven-seater electric and hybrid cars 2022
Best seven-seater electric and hybrids
Best cars

Top 10 best seven-seater electric and hybrid cars 2022

If the regular crop of electrified SUVs and family cars don’t provide enough practicality for you, then take a closer look at the range of electric an…
15 Jun 2022
Top 10 cheapest electric cars 2022
Cheapest electric cars 2022
Electric

Top 10 cheapest electric cars 2022

Contrary to popular opinion, not all electric cars are expensive. Here are the cheapest ones available in the UK right now
15 Jun 2022
New electric cars coming in 2022 and beyond
Polestars under cover
Coming soon

New electric cars coming in 2022 and beyond

With electric cars making up an ever-increasing proportion of sales, the industry is working flat out to launch new models – here's what's on the way …
24 Jun 2022

More on Prius

Toyota Prius Plug-In (2016-2022) review
Toyota Prius Plug-In
Toyota Prius Plug-In

Toyota Prius Plug-In (2016-2022) review

The Prius Plug-In is very efficient, good to drive and comfortable - but not as convincing as the regular version of the car
14 Jun 2022
Best used hybrid cars 2022
Toyota Corolla
Best cars

Best used hybrid cars 2022

Our list of the very best used hybrid cars will help you to find an affordable and efficient car that's right for you
22 Feb 2022
Top 6 best hybrid hatchbacks 2021
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Best cars

Top 6 best hybrid hatchbacks 2021

A hybrid hatchback is just as practical as a normal hatchback, but with even lower running costs. These are the best on sale in 2021
24 Nov 2021
Used Toyota Prius Mk3 buying guide
Toyota Prius - 3rd generation
Toyota Prius

Used Toyota Prius Mk3 buying guide

All you need to know when buying a secondhand example of the Toyota Prius hybrid (2009-2016)
31 Mar 2021
New Toyota Prius 2019: facelifted hybrid gets optional four-wheel drive
Toyota Prius

New Toyota Prius 2019: facelifted hybrid gets optional four-wheel drive

An updated version of the Toyota Prius is on sale in the UK, including with an all-wheel-drive version
27 Jun 2019